340: the lone pilgrim, pt. 1


Creepy dessert case at Krystal’s
Originally uploaded by missjasmine.

Prologue: Chicago

My vacations tend to be short, so it was unusual that I would take ten whole days, in a row, to go away. And I didn’t go anywhere exotic or weird. I just came home. Apart from the day I spent in Philadelphia, I spent my time eating and walking through the outer boroughs of New York City.

Before I get to that, I have to thank Khloé, Jeremy, Joe, Josh, Jeff, Maria, Foster, and all the folks I used to work with in tech support. It was my last day in tech support on the 11th, so I packed up my things, hauled them up to my QA desk, and allowed myself to be feted in the pit. There was Champagne and a pink velvet cake baked by Khloé. Of course, I felt a little weird, as the department I was moving into didn’t even exist anymore. Come Tuesday, I’ll be doing essentially the same work, but I’ll be working for a developer, and not with the QA group whose camaraderie I had grown to enjoy. This new model of testing is supposed to be faster, but who knows if it will succeed, if I’ll still have a job after the 90 days the owners are giving this experiment.

So I had a heavy heart and a heavy conscience as I got tipsy on drink and sugar, had one last AC/DC sing-a-long with Khloé at our desks. I left work a little early so I could buy some cheap jeans which fit at the store and then seemed to become a size too big the next day. Very strange. I wore the jeans later that night to Tim’s party, where I sat around with folks from work, did many shots of ouzo, took a demure shot of Maker’s Mark, and made it home in time to get three hours of sleep and miss my 7:00 am flight. Boo. Rebooking on the 8:00 am was no problem, and gave me some time to smoke a cigarette, get breakfast from McDonald’s, buy the Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair, put on some lip gloss. The flight was pretty damn near empty, so I got to stretch out with the queeny attendants in the back of the plane. I watched a DVD of ‘Popular’ while they talked about the condominium market in Dallas. We flew north a bit over the Hudson River, then circled round into LaGuardia and landed ever so gently on the runway.

1. metropolitan transit (2/12)

The little newsstand at the terminal does not sell 7-day Metrocards. Bitches. I tell my dad I’ll be fine taking the bus then the subway to Nick and Nadine’s apartment, so I don’t need him to drive me. Which is a mistake, as all the service changes turn an hour-long trip into a two hour trip. This trip consists of watching a man wearing a coat eerily similar to mine blow his nose and wipe the snot on the seat next to him on the M60 bus; considering the pair of fey young men on the downtown 5 train; hauling my heavy suitcase through several platforms to transfer to the Q, and then walking from 4th Avenue and Atlantic to Wyckoff Street and the comfort of Nick and Nadine’s living room. I lit a cigarette, telephoned my brother to inform him that I would not be meeting him and assorted others in the park to join the hordes viewing The Gates, and would instead meet him for dinner in Chinatown.

I needed consoling, and baking a ginger cheesecake with Nadine was just the thing to provide. We baked the bake before, or after, we went to Kimera to book her wedding dress. This was exciting stuff. The shop was small and dim and seemingly lined with endless dresses of silk shantung and silk dupioni. Nadine looked best in v-necked tops and full skirts. Neither of us were feeling the straight skirts, though she tried on a few of those as well. After the dress shop, I got on the subway and met my siblings and their respective significant others for dinner at XO. Food was good, and what’s not to love about a cheap-ass noodle joint that has a concrete tree growing in their dining room? The tree was decorated with paper hearts and lights for Valentine’s Day. I seemed to be the only single girl in the place. I didn’t have too much time to dwell on this, as I had to acquaint myself with my sister’s latest boyfriend, my brother’s longtime girlfriend, and Henry. Henry is one of Patrick’s oldest friends, and played with his Zippo through most of the meal. Patrick’s girlfriend Anna is a sweetheart, and I wish I had met her sooner. I invite her and Patrick to visit me during her spring break. I don’t get to talk to Phillip too much, as he is on the far side of our very large table, and he spends a lot of time taking pictures of Patrick taking pictures of him. Which, I assure you, is much funnier than it sounds.

Post-dinner, we dithered about what to do. Drinks, yes, but where? Phillip brought us to a faux Hungarian nightclub, then to the Knitting Factory where nobody wanted to pay the cover to see some crummy suburban hardcore bands, so we got on the subway north to get some cream puffs at Beard Papa and consider our options. Henry suggested the Blue & Gold Tavern on 7th, so off we went for cheap beer. The B & G was crowded, no seats so we stood around awkwardly and tried not to get impaled by the pool cues wielded by our fellow drinkers. Henry got bored very quickly and threatened to leave, so we went to Krytal’s Cafe for ube cake and coffee. Ube is a rather ugly purple yam from the Philippines from which it is possible to produce delicious though luridly colored desserts. The slices we got at Krystal’s were huge, and easily taken with cups of sugary coffee. On a projection screen hanging from the ceiling, an episode of “Queen for A Day” showed women competing for tiaras, cruises, and cash. I felt certain it was a sugar-induced hallucination.

2. birthdays (2/13)

Sean and Michelle’s birthday brunch. I resisted the urge to bring over a bucket of the Colonel’s finest from the KFC on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Warren Street. As it was there was plenty of food at Sean and Michelle’s — the cheesecake I helped Nadine bake. Eggs scrambled with tomato and cheese, and a large box of chocolates from their pal Barry. An assortment of Sean’s friends from work and from his time at the Actor’s Studio chatted easily, pausing only to eat more food or pet Freddy, Sean and Michelle’s overstuffed cat.

Nadine and I didn’t get home until late that evening, as we watched episodes of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” with Michelle after everybody else had gone home. On the walk home, Nadine and I stopped at Walgreen’s so she could buy some Valentine’s chocolate for Nick, and I could get some more toiletries. It wasn’t especially late, but it was Sunday so the only people out were the deli owners closing shop, or young lovers stumbling home from early Valentine’s dinners. I was supposed to get to bed early, but I didn’t. I slept fitfully, not only because of the slow-leaking air mattress, but because I was going to Philadelphia the next day, and the weather was supposed to be just awful.

3. the rain (2/14)

My jeans kept falling down, and I had awful cramps, but I made it up Nevins Street to the subway early Monday morning. Commuters were dressed appropriately for the cold rain outside, but a bit warm for the subway indoors. I removed my jacket as I got on the train, and stifled a chuckle when a girl standing near me asked her friend “Why it gotta smell like hot ass on a summer’s day on this train?” Why, indeed. Penn Station was just as grimy as I remembered it, though the waiting area for Amtrak customers was awfully cool and shiny. Almost indifferent, actually, all sleek metal bars and elegant black leather seating. I got change when I bought some cigar
ettes at the Hudson News.

The train was full, but I managed to snag a seat opposite a girl with copious amounts of tattoos on her neck and arms. She slept easily, only occasionally roused by a new stop and new passengers. She shot a dirty look at a woman who talked on her cell phone, then went back to sleep. I read Vanity Fair, examined my pores in the mirror in the tiny ladies room, and applied lipstick. I called Jeff and Grace when I arrived in Philadelphia, then stepped out the 30th street entrance to smoke and consider the rainy day ahead of me.

Jeff and Grace took me to POD for lunch. POD serves pan Asian cuisine in a sleek futuristic setting. We were seated at a white four-top, and from where we sat we could see the pods where parties of six or more could dine. I had the Peking duck, which was fine. Jeff and Grace regaled me with stories about ill-mannered children and their parents at the Chinese New Year party they had thrown the weekend before. I told them about the weird goings-on at work. After work, we went back to their house so Jeff could be home in time for his daily conference call. Grace gave me a tour of their lovely home, a pile of handmade soap, and more sweets to take with me. Olivia came by at 3:00, and we walked back to campus so she could show me her neighborhood.

Charming Victorian houses, semi-detached townhouses, hilly streets and sidewalks overhung with flowering trees. The rain made my bags heavier, and I had to stop every two blocks to roll down the waist on my jeans. I made a mental note to buy a belt the first chance I got. Olivia and I talked, mostly about school and her impending trip to Laos. She brought me to Cereality, which is coming to Chicago very soon. I mixed several types of Cheerios in my bowl and chomped happily. I had to slurp my milk quickly, as Olivia had a 4:30 colloquium. She dropped me off at Houston Hall, where I smoked a cigarette, called Andreas about meeting for drinks later, and took a nap in a velour armchair. When I finally woke up at 5:40 or so, I had missed a few calls, and Olivia was raring to go home. I called Andreas while we waited for the bus, and we made plans to meet for dinner at a local Ethiopian restaurant.

Olivia occupies a room on the third floor of a women’s co-op. I was glad to set down my bags, use the loo, examine her charming bedroom. Pictures and postcards were tacked to a corkboard above her desk, and a low shelf above her air mattress bore candles and framed photographs. I was sad to leave the coziness of her warm for the cold damp of the outside, but the restaurant wasn’t so far away. Dinner was fine — I wasn’t super hungry. I had butterflies in my stomach, maybe because I was afraid my jeans would drop every time I stood up? Whatevs. Andreas turned up, and the conversation turned almost immediately to graduate school concerns. I tuned them out and focused on my butterflies, who were clamoring for something warm. A few blocks down, I had a Maker’s Mark on the rocks with a twist. This may seem a sacrilege, but I assure you, it was delicious.

Olivia was kind enough to drive me back to the train station, where my train back to Penn Station was 15 minutes late. Once on the train, the hunger that eluded me during dinner returned full force. Fortunately, I had my leftover duck from lunch to consume, which sat well as I switched on my iPod, turned out the lights, and fell quietly asleep. I didn’t get to nap for long, as the trip was barely an hour. Instead of doing the smart thing and getting into a cab, I decided to be thrifty and take the subway. How was I to know the C would run on the F track, or that I should have gotten off at Hoyt? The C deposited me somewhere in lovely Fort Greene, where I was sorely tempted to curl up in the doorway of one of the many brownstones whose gas lamps winked at me in the dark. I had a good turn, finding DeKalb Avenue from where I could see the Williamsburg Bank. Once I started walking towards the bank, a vacant taxi turned a corner. I hailed it, and $9 later, I was home on Wyckoff Street.

Cheers,
Jasmine

*songs*
Truth Hurts – Addictive; Amerie – 1 Thing; Gwen Stefani – Rich Girl

*links*
http://www.caip.rutgers.edu/~ksen/blogs/rampantreviews/2004/06/x-o-cafe-and-grill_108627324376495401.html
http://www.podrestaurant.com
http://www.cereality.com
http://www.30thstreetstation.com
http://www.facilities.upenn.edu/mapsBldgs/view_bldg.php3?id=50

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